Breaking the Army’s taboo

Sgt Rick Clement.
Sgt Rick Clement.
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Rick Clement gazes at the khaki Army helmet he was wearing when, nearly four years ago, he stepped on a landmine leading a foot patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

There is not a scratch on it, save for a few specks of red dust, the residue from the explosion when he suffered appalling injuries while serving as a platoon sergeant in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

Rick had both legs blown off by the improvised incendiary device, and almost lost his right arm. Doctors said the injuries were among the worst they had seen.

“I shouldn’t be alive, it is a miracle I’m still here,” he said. “I died twice on the aeroplane from Camp Bastion to England.

“I suffered two cardiac arrests and the medics had to resuscitate me.

“The surgeons said that if it had happened a year earlier I wouldn’t have survived because front-line surgery techniques have developed so much.”

Rick harbours no animosity towards the people who planted the bomb and nearly claimed his life at the height of the conflict in Afghanistan.

“I’m sure I spoke to the man, woman or child who buried the bomb I stepped on,” he said.

“I can understand why they do it and in the same situation I might have done the same for my family, particularly if somebody was threatening them.

“The person who planted that bomb would have been threatened or paid a lot of money by the Taliban, which when you are very poor and need money to feed your family is a temptation.

“The ordinary folk are not pulling the trigger, they are just putting something in the ground.

“I don’t feel any bitterness towards them – there was probably a very good reason why he or she did it.

“We’d go out on patrol and give Kinder eggs to the children and we did our best to make their world a better place to live in.

“I’ve nothing against the people of Afghanistan.”

Despite his injuries, Rick demonstrated incredible determination and began to regain his independence, mastering a wheelchair and learning to drive again.

Rick says he now wants to spare comrades the heartbreak of being unable to father children, and would like the Ministry of Defence to introduce a system allowing soldiers to provide sperm samples before going to war zones so they are still able to have children if the worst happens.

At present, few store a sample because the fees charged by private fertility clinics are beyond the means of most young soldiers, and many find the subject embarrassing.

“I don’t want others to suffer like me,” he said.

“My mates carried me on to a Chinook helicopter and they say that on the flight back to the base, while I was lying on a stretcher, I was groping at my crotch, reaching down there and trying to feel something, just to assure myself.

“A soldier said I’d lost my legs but he didn’t mention my testicles; it is like a taboo in the Army that you don’t talk about that.”

The medics put him to sleep at Camp Bastion and when he woke up from a coma in hospital three weeks later he was told he would never be able to have children.

It is a hugely difficult subject for any man to talk about, but the 34-year-old has taken the courageous step of going public, and after his marriage split from wife Leanne.

“Leanne was lovely, she really was.

“Our wedding day was like a perfect dream, a celebration of being alive, because the doctors said I should have been dead.

“But what happened changed the dynamics of our relationship.

“It was only later down the line when I was a lot better, when there was time to sit down and think, that we realised too many things had changed.

“It is hard for me talk about, you know.

“Do you really want to admit to the world that your genitals were destroyed and you can’t have kids? I’ve brought the issue out into the open, and I’m very proud of that.”

The diaries, written by Leanne, provide a record of Rick’s struggle and his true grit and bravery.

“I wanted to read them, to understand what they had all gone through,” he says.

“I’ll always keep it, along with the letters and cards I received.

“I got a couple of letters from Sir Alex Ferguson, and if I had died all those people would have been at my funeral and that means a heck of a lot.”

Despite his suffering, it was reported Rick received just £57,950 from the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

“I’m glad to get a pension from the Army and for the incredible support I’ve received from my regiment.”

But for many months it was his own family who nursed and nurtured and looked after him during those dark days in hospital as they picked up the pieces of a badly broken life.

“Part of me wanted to hide. There came a point when I felt I was in people’s ways in shops and other places.

“I struggled to snap out of that and I had to give myself a bit of a talking to.

“Then over a couple of weeks something clicked and I decided it’s not going to stop me shopping and going out.

“And when I did just that I understood I wasn’t in the way. In fact, people wanted to speak to me, some even cried.

“A couple of the lads were killed, so I owe it to them to get out of bed every day with a smile and carry on enjoying life.

“People might think I’m brave – but I disagree. I was just a soldier doing a job. That’s the way I’ll always see it.”

Rick’s charity – A Soldier’s Journey - has raised £100,000. All donations will go to Blesma (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association), SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Families Association), Army Benevolent Fund and Help for Heroes.